Mistakes were made

I was amazed how warm it was when we left the hotel at 5:15am. There was no traffic, so it only took 15 minutes to get to Madrid Airport, and it didn’t take very long to check in and clear security, either.

Madrid Airport is huge (at least Terminal 4 is); flights going to non-Schengen destinations (like London) actually leave from a satellite terminal (4S), which you reach by train; it probably took more than 10 minutes to get to Passport Control. The border guard wanted to stamp my passport on the same page as the inbound stamp from Porto, but had a hard time finding it because it was so faint; once she finally saw it, she muttered “Portugal” and made sure that her stamp was nice and clear.

We went to the lounge for a quick breakfast; I’d never seen an airline lounge that you had to enter and exit through the middle of the Duty Free shop before! It was perfectly pleasant, but the food options were pretty limited. Diane hadn’t quite finished her bottle of water when it was time to go, so she put it in her bag for later.

Our gate was a long way away from the lounge, but we had plenty of time. My watch told me that I’d walked more than a mile by the time we were on the plane, so I was happy that Iberia offered a nice breakfast on the flight to Heathrow. I didn’t quite finish my water, so I put it in the pocket on my backpack and brought it with me for later.

We arrived at Heathrow a few minutes early; when we exited the plane in the C concourse, we had almost two hours to make the connection to SFO. We had our boarding passes and knew we would be flying out of the B gates, so we wouldn’t have to change terminals; we were in Business Class, so we had Fast Track for Security; what could possibly go wrong?

Cue the ominous music.

We followed the signs and got on the train to go to Flight Connections. It made a stop at the B gates and I decided to get off to save time. That was a mistake, because there were no escalators going up to the concourse – BA keeps inbound and outbound traffic strictly separated at Heathrow.

The next train was far more crowded but we managed to squeeze in and went one more stop to Flight Connections. There were lots of people crowded around the help desks, waiting for an agent to fix their problems. We walked past them to the automated gate that lets you in to the Security screening area. I put my boarding pass on the scanner and waited for the gate to open.

It didn’t. The display read “Go to BA Desk”. I tried again with the same result. We were now people with problems.

We trudged back to the help desks and got into the “First and Business” line, which only had four groups of people ahead of us. Ten minutes later, there were still four groups of people ahead of us. Diane stayed in line while I tried using the self-serve kiosk to create new boarding passes; it couldn’t read my passport. I tried the BA app; it gave me a digital boarding pass, but wouldn’t create one for Diane.

Eventually, we got to an agent. She said that the boarding passes I’d printed on the Iberia site were incompatible with BA’s system, even though both airlines are owned by International Airline Group. She also said that at least one of us had missing passport data in the system, even though I’d entered it on both the Iberia and BA sites. Despite all that, she was able to print new boarding passes for us, and off we went. I finished my water on the way back to the Security gate, which opened with no problems this time.

The Fast Track line was closed due to budget cuts and staffing issues, so we got into the regular line, with a little over one hour before our flight. Still plenty of time, right?

Half-an-hour later, we could barely see the actual screening area; I started asking people if we could go ahead of them because we had so little time left. Everyone was great and let us go, for which I’m grateful – and I think I need to refill my karma account now!

At Heathrow, you have to take out any electronics bigger than an iPad as well as the 1-liter bag for liquids and pastes, but you can keep your shoes on. We were ready and got everything into the trays quickly; they didn’t even make us go through the millimeter-wave scanner! Things were looking up.

Until the tray with Diane’s carry-on bag got diverted to the “extra scrutiny” line, with three trays ahead of her. I asked if they could take her bag next – nope, that queue was strictly FIFO. When it was finally time for her bag, the agent found the water she’d brought from the lounge in Madrid; we’d both forgotten about it.

The agent took everything else out of the bag and found nothing else suspicious; he put the water through the analyzer, which found nothing suspicious. He apologized, said that they had to confiscate the water anyway, repacked the bag, and sent us on our way.

It was 25 minutes to flight time, and we still had to get to the B gates, which meant taking the train again. There were escalators to “All Departure Gates” near where we’d emerged from Security but the area was congested. I knew the escalators at the south end of the A concourse were always less crowded, so we walked there…quickly.

We took the uncrowded down escalator and found the sign directing us to the train for the B gates, which was, of course, at the north end of the concourse. Oops! So we walked even more quickly back to the north end to go down four flights to the train.

Which, of course, was delayed for a security check. After what felt like an eternity (but was probably only three minutes), we were allowed to board for the two minute journey to the B gates, where we took the lift up to departure level.

We ran to our gate; fortunately, they hadn’t closed the doors to the aircraft yet! The gate agent scanned the boarding passes and looked at our passports one last time, and told us we could breathe and walk down the jetway to the plane. And we did.

Lessons learned:

• The sign at Heathrow Terminal 5 that says “Flight Connections, all terminals” means all terminals.
• Never put a non-empty bottle of water inside a bag until you’re completely past Security.
• The only path to the B and C concourses at Terminal 5 is at the north end of the A concourse.
• Be nice to people in a hurry – you may be them some day.
• All’s well that ends well.

I was pleasantly surprised when I got on the plane – not just because we made it, but because this plane had been reconfigured with BA’s “Club Suite” layout. BA’s traditional Club cabin is arranged so that half the passengers face backwards and many passengers need to walk over a neighbor’s legs to get to the aisle (especially awkward when people are sleeping); on this plane, all the seats face forwards and everyone has direct aisle access. There’s even a sliding door that you can close between you and the aisle to give you more privacy (at least that’s the theory). It’s not perfect if you’re traveling with someone, though, because the seats are pretty far apart, making conversation difficult.

I spent most of the flight editing photos from the trip and learning more about Lightroom, so I feel like I accomplished something today.

We sat on the runway for more than half-an-hour; I think it was a problem getting a ramp crew, but I’m not sure. Once they got that sorted out, things moved more smoothly – the door they used for disembarkation was right behind our seats, so we wound up being the last people to get on the plane and the first to get off. Our gate was very close to the Customs area; this was the first time we’d used Global Entry with facial recognition, and it was quick and easy.

And now we’re home – I’m trying to stay awake until at least 9pm Pacific, but it’s a struggle!

Last Day in Madrid

We had our second tour with Beatriz today, a Full Day Madrid Tour featuring the Royal Palace and the Prado.

We started at the Westin Palace Hotel and slowly worked our way to the Royal Palace. I showed Beatriz the track of our tour on Monday and she used that to make sure we mostly saw different areas of the city, though we did return to Plaza del Sol and the Plaza Mayor today.

Madrid has many unusual sights atop its buildings, like this chariot on the BBVA building.

Beatriz told us that the Tio Pepe sign in Plaza del Sol used to be on the building now occupied by the Apple Store – Apple paid to move it to its current location!

Madrid street signs tell stories, like this one for the Calle de Arenal, showing workers digging up sand; the name of the street is literally “Sandy Street”.

We walked through the San Gimés neighborhood, and again we didn’t stop at the chocolateria. And we couldn’t visit the old bookstore because it was too early in the day.

I got a slightly different view of Plaza Mayor today.

There are many old stores in Madrid; here’s a clockmaker who’s been in business for 140 years.

The sign for the Calle de Toledo could almost have been one of the photos we took yesterday!

Beatriz took me to what she said was the best candy shop in the city, Carmelos Paco, so I could buy distinctive hard candies. I got away with only 350 grams of candy. It’s in the La Latina neighborhood, as is the Church of San Isidro, which I found very beautiful.

There are apartments just across from the church; instead of a blank wall, we got to see this.

We also visited the branch of the Madrid Museum near the church, which tells the story of the miracle of San Isidro and the well. He makes a guest appearance in person.

After a quick lunch at Casa Revuelta, we went to the Royal Palace, and Beatriz gave us a private tour. Photos are not permitted in most of the tour, which is through the Royal Apartment, but there were a few opportunities.

It had gotten seriously hot while we were in the palace, so we visited a nearby watering hole before catching a taxi to the Prado, where Beatriz took us on a tour showing us some of her favorite paintings and painters, including Bosch, Breugel, Titian, El Greco, Velasquez, and Goya.

No photos were allowed in the Prado, either, but I did get to take a picture of Goya’s statue from the front as we left.

I had hoped to visit El Retiro and find the statue of Lucifer, but the weather prevented us from going there!

Instead, we went back to the hotel to drop off our burdens, had dinner at Lamucca, and packed. Our plane tomorrow is at 8am, so we need to leave the hotel by 5am, hence this short entry with fewer links than usual.

Holy Toledo!

Today we went to Toledo for a tour, booked, as usual, with Tours By Locals. Beatriz G. was our guide, and she’ll be guiding us again tomorrow in Madrid – so it’s a good thing we really liked her and learned a lot from her!

It’s also a good thing we scouted out the railroad station in advance, because we got to our meeting point a few minutes late anyway. We had plenty of time to go through security and board the train to Toledo.

The Toledo station was small but interesting; we saw the first of many beautiful windows and ceilings with geometric patterns (inspired by Islamic art).

The station also had a very unusual clock.

Beatriz called for a cab to take us into the city (the temperature was already well into the 80s) and we got our first glimpses of Toledo from the cab.

We stopped at a viewpoint to get better photos; there were at least half-a-dozen buses there doing the same thing!

The cab left us in the Plaza de Zocodover, which was being decorated for the Corpus Christi procession on Thursday.

The city had put up shades to cover the streets the procession will use. On Thursday, the area will be filled with thousands of people.

We started our walking tour by leaving the central area and walking on smaller, less-traveled streets. We took a quick look inside the Circulo del Arte, housed in the former Iglesia de San Vicente, a 13th Century Mudéjar church.

We continued walking through the city, enjoying the decorations and the occasional shade.

There are nuns making and selling cookies to support themselves here in Toledo, too.

We visited the Visigoth Museum, housed in another 13th Century Mudéjar church.

There was some stunning artwork still in place.

We left the Visigoths behind to walk the narrow streets leading to the Jewish Quarter.

And here we are!

We walked up a hill and Beatriz recognized a friend who invited us into his home! It was an unexpected opportunity to see a non-tourist part of Toledo.

We returned to the narrow streets – you have to like your neighbors to live so close!

There are two former synagogues in the Jewish Quarter; the first, the Synagogue of Santa Maria La Blanca, was converted into a church after the Expulsion of 1492, and later into a barracks. It is now a museum, owned by the Catholic Church.

Our second stop was the Synagogue of El Tránsito, now the Sephardi Museum. It also had a variety of uses after the Expulsion before becoming a museum early in the 20th Century.

The architecture shows a lot of the three religions which have shared Toledo over the years; there are Islamic windows, Arabic inscriptions, lots of Hebrew, and many reminders of the building’s use as a church.

Hebrew books and scrolls were on exhibit.

Outside, there was a wall with Ibn Ezra’s Ancient Graves inscribed in Hebrew and Spanish.

The synagogue has been partially restored – you can see an old Torah curtain where it once covered the ark, and an old drawing showing what the building looked like when it was in use.

Of course, it’s impossible to go to Toledo and not visit the Cathedral!

The interior is stunning.

The monstrance will be used during the Corpus Christi procession on Thursday.

The Islamic influence is here, too, in the geometric designs and the ever-present arches.

We went into the Chapter House, where the bishop and priests discuss matters of importance.

Beatriz said this sign means “what happens here stays here”.

The sacistry has amazing artworks. El Greco’s “The Disrobing of Christ” and Caravaggio’s “San Juan Batista” are only two.

We went back into the main sanctuary; I have far too many photos to post. I was amused by the carvings on the seats in the choir, like this mermaid. Beatriz said some of the carvings are NSFW, but she didn’t point any of those out.

We had to leave Toledo and return to Madrid; before we left, we visited what Beatriz said was the best marzipan shop in town, Santo Tomé, and picked up a few treats for later. They do amazing work with marzipan – this model of the Toledo School of Translators is in their front window.

Tomorrow, we explore the Royal Palace and the Prado with Beatriz. It should be a great day!

Over-heated, over-arted, and over-tired

We asked our guide, Jackie M., if we could start our four-hour walking tour of Madrid at 9:30am instead of the normal 10am in hopes of beating the heat. She was happy to make the change and it was a great tour, but we were awfully hot by the end.

We started at our hotel and she took us by the Prado Museum and the Goya Monument outside the main entrance; the lines were already long.

We walked past the Library of the Prado and the Jeronimos Church before getting to El Retiro Park.

El Retiro Park used to belong to the Royal Family; it was their “nice retreat” in the country, but it’s long since been surrounded by city and the Royal Family gave it to the city of Madrid in the late 19th Century.

There were “yellow alert” warnings for heat at the entrance to the park, which meant that they planned to close some buildings at noon, including the Crystal Palace, so we went directly there.

Well, almost directly – Jackie showed us the Oldest Tree in Madrid, a Mexican conifer planted more than 400 years ago, and we stopped to take a photo at the Plaza Parterre looking back at Madrid.

The Crystal Palace was built in 1887 as a greenhouse for an exhibit of Philippine plants and animals. It was designed so it could be moved to another site, but it’s never moved.

The Crystal Palace is now part of the Reina Sofía Museum and the current exhibit is called “Against the Extravagance of Desire” – it’s a cardboard construction!

It wasn’t much hotter inside the Crystal Palace than outside – maybe the cardboard absorbed some of the heat. :-)

The Crystal Palace is next to a lake, complete with swans and turtles.

As we continued exploring the park, we saw the Fuente de la Alcachofa, which used to be at the roundabout near the main railroad station – they moved it to improve traffic flow.

There’s a huge lake in the park, used for boating, with a statue of King Alfonso XII at one edge.

We left the park and went back into town, stopping by the Puerta de Alcalá and another monument to King Carlos III. It took me four tries to get a photo without traffic!

We continued down Calle de Alaclá until we reached the Paseo del Prado and the Fountain of Cibeles, one of three fountains dedicated to Greek deities on the Paseo.

Our next stop was outside the Cervantes Institute, dedicated to spreading Spanish culture throughout the world.

We took a look at the Gran Via, Madrid’s Broadway. Buildings are being repurposed all the time – this one, the Edificio Metrópolis, once owned by a Spanish life insurance company, will probably become a hotel.

And this one, formerly owned by Equitable Life, has already become a hotel – a Four Seasons.

We were almost ready to start exploring the older section of Madrid, but first we had to walk through the Plaza del Sol – on our way, Jackie pointed out the candy shop which makes the most iconic candy of Madrid, La Violete. I noted its location for later.

The Plaza del Sol is under renovation – when it’s finished, it’ll be a huge area for celebrations. They do plan to leave the statue of Carlos III in place, along with the Tio Pepe Sherry sign.

Madrid Region’s main office is in the plaza; the official Zero Kilometer marker for distances in Spain is right outside.

Madrid, of course, has a Plaza Mayor (every Spanish city does). Most of it burned down in the 18th Century; the building behind the statue is the only remaining original building.

We made a quick trip to visit the cloistered nuns of the Monasterio del Corpus Christi. [They sell cookies], but we chose not to buy any today. There are some interesting decorations in their building.

We stopped at the old Madrid City Hall on our way to the Cathedral and Royal Palace, and I discovered the reason behind the bear-and-tree statue I posted yesterday – that statue is patterned after the city’s coat of arms.

The Cathedral was completed in 1993 (it was not Madrid’s first Cathedral).

When the monarchy was restored after Franco’s death, the King decided he didn’t want to live in a 4,000 room palace, but it’s still used for ceremonial purposes. We plan to visit it on Wednesday.

The park adjacent to the Palace has statues (of course), including ones for the original Kings of Spain, the Visigoth Kings.

More modern kings have statues, too, such as this one of Alfonso I.

And that was our four-hour tour of Madrid. Jackie took us back to the Plaza del Sol so we could return to the hotel on our own – I stopped at the candy store on the way back, and we collapsed for a while.

When we were ready to face the world again, we visited El Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisz, right across the street from our hotel. Jackie had advised us to start at the top floor with the oldest art and work our way down to the newest – we didn’t even finish the top floor.

I was amazed at how vibrant the early art was, like this painting of Christ and the Samaritan Women from around 1310.

This Portrait of Giovanna degli Albizzi Tornabuoni from 1489 stopped me in my tracks. It’s amazingly three-dimensional.

I liked The Meeting of Tamar and Judah by Tintoretto, too.

The museum closes early on Mondays, so we had to leave before 4pm. I did get to glimpse this one very contemporary work on my way out.

We went back to the hotel to cool off again; we left one more time, with three goals:

  • Have dinner
  • Find our meeting point at the railway station for tomorrow’s tour of Toledo
  • See Guernica at the Reina Sofía Museum

The first two were easy, but when we got to the museum, there was a huge line waiting for 7pm when free admission began. We didn’t have to wait, though, because people over 65 get free admission all the time – we got to the room with Guernica about ten minutes before the crowds arrived.

They don’t allow photos in the room with Guernica to avoid traffic jams; the rest of the museum welcomes photography. I was pretty tired by then, so I only took one photo, of Man Ray’s Indestructible Object.

Tomorrow is supposed to be even hotter than today, and Toledo is usually about five degrees Fahrenheit warmer than Madrid. Wish us luck!

Segovia and a little bit of Madrid

When we checked into the Westin Palace, the desk clerk offered me the choice of 1,000 Marriott points or daily breakfast for two in the hotel restaurant, La Rotonda. It wasn’t a hard choice; I chose the breakfast.

This morning, I realized the wisdom of the choice; not only was the breakfast buffet amazing in its breadth of choices (little hamburgers for breakfast, sparkling wine, churros, omelettes, two kinds of smoked salmon, and much much more) and very tasty, but the room was almost worth the price of admission by itself.

The big plan for today was a guided tour to Segovia. Our guide, Pepe, also did the driving; it took a little over an hour to get to Segovia, much of it spent in Madrid traffic.

On the way there, I noticed this huge cross near the highway – it is the largest cross in the Western world (500 feet high) and was built between 1940 and 1959 at the order of Francisco Franco. He was buried there but was exhumed in 2019; he is, however, still dead.

We parked on the outskirts of Segovia, near the old Roman aqueduct, which was in use until late in the 19th Century.

It’s more impressive as it gets closer to the city and is carried on arches to maintain the gravity-powered flow of water.

It discharged into a cistern which is now drained; Pepe showed us how the water flowed in and out and how the iron content had stained the granite over the centuries.

On the way into Segovia, we passed a billboard advertising the Sixth International Swift Conference – it was for the birds, not the language, and we found quite a few of them flying around.

Pepe told us a lot about the Spanish Inquisition (which continued until 1834), complete with drawings illustrating the process of getting the accused to confess (waterboarding was part of the process). They built a church for the Inquisition to do its work outside the walls of the city – plausible deniability is nothing new.

Pepe told us about some of the civil wars that had happened in Spain, including, of course, the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s. After Franco died, the city put up a monument to those who were persecuted during and after the war.

We walked through the Jewish Quarter; it was rather small and not terribly photogenic. Pepe said that Jews had lived thoroughout the area before the Inquisition, not just in the one area, which was quite close to the Cathedral – you could see the gargoyles which provide the drainage for the Cathedral from there.

We walked to the Plaza Mayor, which was lovely. During the Inquisition, it was the site of the weekly executions of the guilty; again, Pepe showed us drawings and described the process in detail.

We walked by the Cathedral; it’s impressive.

Diane noticed some interesting markers on the street – at first, I thought they might have been a Spanish twist on the Stolperstein (stumbling stones) you see in Germany, but they’ve been placed by the Network of Spanish Jewish Quarters to mark the old Jewish Quarter.

The crown jewel of the day was our visit to the Alcázar of Segovia (Segovia Castle), where Queen Isabella I (of Columbus fame) was enthroned.

No castle was complete without a moat – Pepe said that they fed the alligators in the moat through the hole in the rock.

Children did a lot of the fighting in wars in the Middle Ages; they were enthusiastic and easily replaceable.

We visited the ceremonial Throne Room, complete with tapestry on the wall and a stained glass window showing Ferdinand on his horse which is standing on the severed heads of a number of Moors.

Ironically, the Castle is filled with Moorish designs and architecture.

Isabella’s coronation was commemorated on the walls.

It was well worth the visit.

We doubled back to the Jewish Quarter to see the Abraham Seneor House; Seneor was a major funder to Ferdinand and Isabella, and was so important to them that he was given a coat of arms and they didn’t force him to convert. He was, however, posthumously converted to Catholicism.

Pepe had made reservations at Casa Duque, an old family restaurant (the current owner is the fourth generation) serving traditional cuisine. We couldn’t have their speciality, roast suckling pig, but what we did have was delicious: Judiones de La Granja con puerro (beans with cod and leeks) as an appetizer and two kinds of lamb as a main course. We had Spanish wine, of course – Muruve Crianza, a 2016 Toro from Zamora.

It was time to leave Segovia, but we took one last look at the aqueduct. Pepe had told us that when the Christians came to Segovia, they were reluctant to use pagan constructions like the aqueduct, so they Christianized them by adding, for example, the statue of the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus in this photo.

And here we are, saying goodbye to Segovia.

Possibly the most shocking thing I saw all day were the fountains – they run 24 hours a day, offering water to all and sundry. I can’t imagine such a fountain in California!

On the way back to Madrid, we saw a bridge which reminded me of the Sundial Bridge in Redding; it’s the same architect.

When we got back to Madrid, we holed up in our nice air-conditioned room for a few hours, but ventured out after 8pm. We went to Eccolo Gelato for dinner again, but wandered around a lot and found a few interesting sites.

Our hotel is at the edge of the Barrio de las Letras; there’s a statue to Cervantes across the street from the hotel, but many other Spanish authors are honored by statues throughout the area.

Not all the statues are of authors – here’s one we found near the Sol Metro station.

Tomorrow is supposed to be hotter than today, and we have a walking tour of Madrid planned for the morning. I’m hoping the temperature will stay under 100°F, but I doubt it.

Toto, I don’t think we’re in Porto any more

It takes about half-an-hour to get from the Porto dock to the airport and our flight from Porto to Madrid was scheduled to leave at 12:20pm, so I was surprised when the ship told us that they’d arranged a 6:30am transfer to the airport. I’m paranoid, but not that paranoid – so I got them to change it to 9am, which let us have a civilized breakfast and say goodbye to friends before departing.

We got to the airport at 9:30 and went to the check-in counter listed on the departure board. It was marked for Transavia instead of Iberia, and the agent told me that we couldn’t check in there. Some friends on the flight figured it out – the gate would change ownership 2 hours before flight time. So we hung around waiting for the magic to happen. Eventually, it did.

There were several other long lines ahead of us, but we had plenty of time and eventually made ourselves at home in the lounge to have one last sampling of Port.

We got to Madrid and got into the long taxi line; it moved quickly, and I was very happy to learn that there’s a fixed 30 Euro fare between the airport and the central city.

Madrid is a big city; it reminds me of Paris, but with more fountains and bigger roundabouts. And it’s hotter.

We hadn’t had lunch, so we wanted an early dinner; I was afraid that might be difficult, since it was still siesta time, but the concierge here at the Westin Palace pointed us to Oven Mozzarella and we had pizza and wine for dinner. Possibly too much wine; we got the Juan Gil Jumilla, which was 15% ABV instead of the 11-12% we’d been drinking…and we finished the bottle. The pizza was good, and the decor was interesting – especially in the bathroom area, where the sinks were not immediately obvious (at least not after finishing the wine).

We decided to go to the Botanical Garden instead of going into a museum – but the whole city is really a museum of architecture and history. There was a monument to the architects of the Gran Via (the big street that our restaurant was on), showing the buildings in 3D.

We passed a plaque dedicated to Franz Liszt.

We walked by the Prado.

The Botanical Garden was very pleasant, even if there weren’t as many flowers as I would have liked. We saw interesting birds, though, as well as an “insect hotel”.

We left the Garden a little after 8:30, and the streets were hopping, and they got busier as we walked to Eccolo Gelato and then back to the hotel, passing the Congress of Deputies’ building on the way.

Tomorrow, we’re off to Segovia.

A hot time in Porto

Today, we had a choice of two Porto tours; we took the “Hiking Tour” which spanned about 3.5 miles.

We started by walking from our ship to the lower level of the Luis I Bridge; it was a national holiday and people were out in droves. We had to stop for kayakers on their way to the water.

As we walked towards the bridge, we saw the replica ribeiro boats that are sponsored by the various Port houses; they are raced once a year on St. John’s Day in late June, and the winning house has bragging rights for a year.

We crossed the bridge easily – they are replacing the pavement on the lower level, so there were no cars to contend with. Once we were on the Porto side, I was able to find our ship, the AmaDouro.

Our guide, Peter, took us through what had become familiar territory – along the riverside, past the statue of Henry the Navigator and the Bolsa, to Rua de Flores where our hotel was, and up to the old Jewish Quarter.

We stopped briefly at Lello Bookstore to admire the line; I got a photo of the ceiling. Maybe we’ll visit next time.

We stopped by the most beautiful McDonald’s in the world (according to our guide) – it had been the Cafe Imperial and the city had landmarked it, so McDonald’s was not allowed to alter the exterior or the interior. They did, however, install self-service kiosks which did not improve the appearance of the restaurant.

Of course, no self-respecting Porto tour could avoid stopping inside the São Bento train station. Our guide told us about the artist who made all the tiles and recounted the story told on each wall.

This visit, I was able to get a better view of the mural showing Henry the Navigator coming ashore in Ceuta in northern Africa.

We took a shortcut through the Metro station to get to the Cathedral square; Peter showed us one of the navigation signs for pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago.

We crossed the upper deck of the Luis I bridge to get back to Vila Nova de Gaia. We took the cable car back down to the riverside.

The final stop on the morning tour was a Port tasting at Cálem. We learned even more about the making of Port and admired the huge barrels before getting to taste a couple of glasses (in our case, “Fine White” and “Special Reserve” Tawny).

We liked Cálem’s Port more than the other places we visited, so we bought some to bring home, airlines willing.

It was a very hot day, so I suspect most people stayed on or near the ship to benefit from the air conditioning. Not us – we crossed the bridge yet again to visit the Igreja de São Francisco. We’d passed it several times; today, our guide told us that there were many pounds of gold leaf on the walls of the church and that it was well worth the visit even though photography wasn’t allowed.

We started our tour in the museum, which is located in the “Casa do Despacho da Ordem Terceira de São Francisco” (the Dispatch House). The chapels there are modest compared to the church itself, but they’re not that modest.

The catacombs are on the lower level, complete with an ossuary.

The Order ran its business from this building; we stopped in their conference room.

The main church was, as advertised, stunning. I saw other people sneaking photographs with their cell phones, so I decided to do the same. It’s probably only a venial sin, right?

We crossed the bridge again to return to the ship. We were very hot and thirsty; there was a bar that also advertised fresh-squeezed lemonade, so we bought some. The ingredients were juice from two freshly-squeezed lemons and water. No sugar. It was tart.

There were a couple of tunas performing on the sidewalk – we only stayed around long enough to hear the women singing. Did I mention it was hot?

We packed (mostly) and had dinner. There were fewer people in the dining room than most nights, probably because there have been a few Covid cases (I know of three) and those people are now isolating in a hotel.

Sunset was glorious.

Tomorrow, we leave for Madrid.

Shabbat Shalom!

Docked

We arrived in Vila Nova de Gaia and docked during the gala farewell dinner; Porto and the river were still beautiful.

Our after-dinner entertainment tonight was a musical group, the Tuna de Contabilidade do Porto, a group of students from the Instituto Superior de Contabilidade e Administração do Porto. They were great – we bought one of their CDs.

For one song, they went through the room putting student capes on the most beautiful women; Diane was, of course, one of them.

Now I know where the Sandeman cape comes from.

Sailing back to Porto

Technically, we’re sailing to Vila Nova de Gaia because that’s were Ama docks, but it’s just across the river from Porto proper. Vila Nova de Gaia is also a much bigger city than Porto, but Porto has the reputation!

This morning, we had a short sailing from Pinhão to Régua; along the way, I admired some of the riverside residences like this one.

We had to traverse two locks today; the first was at the Bagaúste Dam; I went up to the Sun Deck in time to see the Captain on the bridge.

A few minutes later, they made all the passengers go below for safety – the last thing I saw was the Captain’s head above the bridge!

Our landing at Régua was to let us visit Lamego and climb the 686 steps up to the Santuário de Nossa Senhora dos Remédios. Part of the staircase was under construction, so we only had to walk the top half of the stairs. We still got some great views and enjoyed the tile murals at the landings.

The inside of the church was spectacular, too; the ceiling was lovely.

We took the bus down to a wine tasting (yes, another one!) and then walked around town for half-an-hour before returning to the ship for lunch.

We sailed past the Sandeman statue on their estate at Quinta do Seixo; I guess we won’t be visiting them this trip.

As I write this, we’ve just cleared the last lock of the journey at the Carrapatelo Dam, the highest lock in Europe; I’m so jaded by locks that I didn’t even go outside to watch the passage, so there are no photos.

It’s time to get ready for the farewell cocktail hour and dinner, so I will sign off for tonight.

Quinta da Roêda

After lunch, we left for our first official Port tasting of the trip, at Quinta da Roêda, which is owned by Croft, which is now under the same ownership as Taylor.

Again, I was glad I wasn’t driving the bus – the roads were not built for tourism!

The trip was short – only 15 minutes or so – and then we were at the winery.

Our guide showed us the crushing room; he was standing in one of the vats where they actually crush wine by foot during the harvest.

Port wine is a fortified wine; they use French brandy to fortify the local grapes. It’s stored in huge concrete vats.

They also grow olives and make estate olive oil here.

We saw one of their newer fields, about 16 years old.

The wine itself? Pretty good, and less expensive than it would have been in the US, but not good enough to schlep. At least not until we can try some others!

The Return Trip Begins

We pushed off from Pocinho a few minutes after 7.

I sat outside on our balcony after breakfast and enjoyed the river view.

We wanted to be on the sundeck to watch the ship go through the lock at Valeria Dam, but the area was closed for our safety, so we watched from the forward deck instead.

This lock has a bit more than a 100-foot drop – it looked a lot farther than that!

One of the other passengers pointed out that we were tied up to bollards that were being lowered along with us.

And then we were down, looking up at the sky far above.

Guess what? We saw a winery right away!

We’ll be docking at Pinhão soon for an after-lunch visit to Quinta da Roêda with a port wine tasting; later today, we will be going to Mateus Palace and Gardens for a tour and then dinner at Quinta de Avessada with more wine tasting.

I’m posting now because it’s going to be pretty late when we return from the tours – I’m glad I’m not driving!

Salamanca, the Golden City

We left for Salamanca at 8:30 this morning. It was nearly a two-hour drive, mostly through agricultural areas with a few villages on the way including La Fregeneda, Lumbrales, and Vitigudino with a rather ominous-looking silo near the roadside.

We also passed the “stork hotel” and some stand-alone stork nests.

Salamanca was almost a shock – it’s the first city we’ve seen done we left Porto. There was even traffic to contend with before we got to the Hotel Alameda Palace, our headquarters for the day.

We set out on foot for the Salamanca Central Market. Many of our cohorts wanted to try the famous Iberian ham – we found a bakery instead. Fresh fish was a big draw for locals (farmed salmon was about $10/pound), too, and we couldn’t resist a photo with a fine specimen.

I also liked the stained glass in the windows on all sides.

We met Carmen, our local guide, at the entrance to the Plaza Mayor.

The Plaza Mayor is a huge public square with statuary on the walls commemorating significant times in Spanish history. The apartments on the upper floors are very expensive; the ground floor is filled with restaurants, bars, cafes, Starbucks, and shops of all descriptions – some probably weren’t even just for tourists!

As we wended our way to the University of Salamanca (a very selective public institution, not to be confused with the Pontifical University of Salamanca, which is a private university that you can get into with enough money), Carmen pointed out the glassed-in balconies on some buildings; she said they were built in the late 19th Century to give ladies a place to sew, gossip, and watch the city.

She also pointed out the storks at St. Stephen’s Church and the Public Library, which is in a 15th Century building known as the House of Shells, built by a professor at the University of Salamanca, who is supposed to have decorated it for his wife.

In earlier times, students at the University of Salamanca did a lot of sword-fighting; the marks in this wall are supposed to be where they sharpened their swords.

There is a frog carved into the “Patio de Escuelas” at the University; finding it is supposed to bring good luck. Carmen shone a laser pointer at it to make sure we could all find it, and only after we all said we’d seen it did she tell us finding the frog meant we’d return to Salamanca.

We walked through one of the original buildings of the university, mostly used for ceremonial purposes today. Of course, there’s also a gift shop there! There were plaques above the classrooms dating back to the Middle Ages explaining the use of the rooms.

It was the custom in the Middle Ages for successful doctoral students to write an inscription in bull’s blood commemorating their victory (they also had to buy a feast for the rest of the students).

UNICEF followed that tradition in 1996 when they recognized the university for its contribution to children – but they used red paint, not bull’s blood.

Some of the interior rooms were spectacular, none more so than the Chapel.

We walked past the old and new Cathedrals; Carmen pointed out the 20th-Century carvings on the outside showing an astronaut and a devil eating ice cream!

We walked back to the Alameda Palace for lunch and a flamenco show. I think the flamenco was traditional, but the encore wasn’t – it was “Volare”!

After lunch, Diane and I went back to tour the cathedrals. They were overwhelming. There were dozens of small chapels; everything was gilded; the organ was playing the whole time we were there. One chapel is just called the “Golden Chapel” (I guess they ran out of names!).

After our visit to the Cathedral, we walked down to the Roman Bridge before hurrying back to the hotel to meet the bus to take us back to the ship.

Salamanca even has appropriate gas stations!

The trip back to the ship retraced our steps and was uneventful (I slept through part of it!).

I wouldn’t have minded more time in Salamanca; it’s a very interesting place. Hmmm…I did find the frog, didn’t I?

Morning on the Rivers

We’re preparing for our day in Salamanca, which meant we were up to enjoy the peaceful morning views from the ship. We’re still moored in Spain at Vega Terron, on the Águeda River (Portugal is on the right in the photo).

The ship will sail back into Portugal and down the Douro River while we’re away; the total sailing distance is about a kilometer!

We’ll meet the ship at Barca d’alva for our evening sail to Pocinho where we will overnight.

Off we go!

To Spain!

We sailed away from Régua promptly at 7am, en route to Vega Terron, Spain. We traversed the first of today’s three locks (at the Bagaúste Dam) before breakfast; I was amused by the road sign for the river that I saw after we’d cleared the lock.

We cruised onward to the town of Pinhāo, where the river forked.

We took the river more traveled (the Douro) and enjoyed the beautiful wine country; there were lots of signs for port houses (like Dow’s and Taylor’s) along the way.

We cleared two more locks before arriving at today’s moorage, Vega Terron – about 100 meters into Spain.

We didn’t stay in Spain long, though; our buses met us and took us back into Portugal to visit the historic enclave of Castelo Rodrigo, high above the valley floor. We visited the Igreja Matriz de Castelo Rodrigo (still in active use) and went into the ruins of the castle itself.

We only had an hour in Castelo Rodrigo, so we had to choose between seeing everything or doing a little tasting and shopping; we chose the latter and will be coming home with some flavored almonds and a cork waist pack that I plan to use to carry extra batteries for the camera and phone when we have an all-day excursion.

On the way back, we stopped at the [Miradouro do Alto da Saphina overlook](https://www.trip.com/travel-guide/attraction/guarda/miradouro-natural-do-alto-da-sapinha-58333195) to take a look at the Spain/Portugal border and our ship.

I wanted to get a selfie of Diane and me there – unfortunately, there was another guest in the background so I had to move to get a clean shot. In the process, I bumped into a slab of granite and scraped my leg – but I got the photo!

After dinner, we found that our cabin had been decorated for our anniversary!

The ship also gave us a bottle of champagne, but we didn’t open it – instead, we went to the “Fire and Ice” demo in the lounge, where one of the bartenders showed us how to open a bottle of vintage port, even though the cork had deteriorated. All it took was a Bunsen burner, a pair of tongs, five minutes to heat the tongs, a minute of using the tongs to heat the neck of the bottle, and a supply of ice water which she poured on the heated spot. Voilà – the neck broke and the port was ready to decant! It was tasty, too.

Tomorrow, we rise early for an all-day excursion to Salamanca.

Locks and Quinta

We pushed off from the dock (well, actually we pushed away from the ships between us and the dock) a little after 7 this morning and soon found ourselves on a quiet stretch of the Douro. We weren’t alone, though – we saw a few boaters out for a morning row.

We had one lock to traverse before reaching our first destination, Entre-os-Rios. We stopped before approaching the lock – there was a worker keeping the hillside vegetation under control.

I went up to the Sun Deck to watch the traversal; they’d lowered the canopy over the lounge chairs so that we could get through the lock, so I got to see the solar cells that Ama is using to partially power the ship.

And then we were at the lock. There were sailors on either side of the ship making sure we didn’t bump the sides.

The captain came onto the deck to make the final adjustments.

And we were through to Entre-os-Rios, where we disembarked and got onto buses to take us to Quinta da Aveleda for a scenic walk, lunch, and wine.

The route took us through Penafiel. Penafiel has some interesting artwork in their roundabouts – this one has 70 slabs of granite commemorating both the importance of granite to the economy and the 70 parishes in the province.

And cyclists were everywhere – in fact, we had to slow down several times because bicyclists were in the lane, going very slowly up hills. This guy wasn’t a problem, though.

And then we were at the Quinta.

The estate has been under one ownership since the 17th Century, and it’s been a winery and vineyard for a couple of centuries. Much of it is taken up by flowers and wildlife.

There were dozens of varieties of hydrangea.

I liked this Perforate St. John’s wort.

This bush is called “yesterday, today, and tomorrow” because the flowers change color so quickly.

There were many fire lilies.

This hydrangea is also called “Tea of Heaven”.

They have a small flock of goats.

The family preserved this window from a 16th Century building in Porto; it has some relationship to Henry the Navigator, but I didn’t take careful enough notes to remember what it was.

They grow cork trees on the estate; the cork they harvest is used for clothing, not wine. You can see how much of the cork they harvest every few years.

The family who owns the estate is a Big Deal; the Royal Family visited from time to time, including having dinner outside in 1901.

One more tiger lily for the road!

We finished the tour with a visit to the Brandy Aging Room. The smell was heavenly, but we didn’t get to taste any brandy.

Lunch was pleasant but not picturesque; we had to leave Aveleda to return to the ship. The gift shop wasn’t even open!

The drive back to the ship was fast – no cyclists.

I don’t know what the connection is between this statue of Christ and the bullhorns mounted on it; I don’t even know how to ask.

We returned to the ship for a beautiful afternoon of cruising down the Douro.

We saw small towns, terraced farms, beaches, and more.

We traversed the Carrapatelo lock, the biggest lock on the river. We barely made it!

The Douro valley is very beautiful.

Tonight, we dock at Régua and will have a Fado show after dinner. Should be fun!

To the ship!

It turns out I don’t know Porto as well as I thought I did. This morning we decided to go to the Romantic Museum at the Crystal Palace; I followed the directions given by Google. About three minutes after I left the hotel, I realized that we had passed the same location yesterday going in the other direction just before we arrived at the Bolsa. Seeing a sign today that said “Hotel de Bolsa” was a hint, but I also recognized the name of the street that the Bolsa is on. I had no idea we were so close….

It took us another twenty minutes to get to the museum; of course, there was a great view of the Douro along the way!

The Romantic Museum is an “extension” of the City Museum of Porto. It’s in an old house and the entire interior was given over to an exhibition titled "METAMORPHOSES – Vegetal, Mineral and Animal Immanence in the Romantic Domestic Space ". There were a few paintings, but it was mostly actual objects – everything from pianos to furniture to lace. I would love to have this desk!

The exhibit ended with a “cabinet of curiosities” occupying an entire room.

I wouldn’t make this museum my first stop in Porto, but it was small enough to explore completely in the time we had this morning.

We decided to take one of Google’s alternate routes back to the hotel in the hope of finding somewhere for lunch. We passed the Justice Museum (and its courtrooms) and got a nice view of Clergiós Tower before turning onto a street we hadn’t yet explored, where we found Swallow Decadent Brunch. The menu was interesting and TripAdvisor said it was good, so we went in. TripAdvisor was right; I had the chicken and waffles and Diane had lox and bagel (with egg) and we both enjoyed our meals.

Our hotel was only five minutes away, all downhill; we collected our luggage and the hotel called a taxi to take us to the AmaDouro, our home for the next week. When the taxi stopped, we worried that we might be repeating our Budapest experience of being dropped at the wrong place and having to schlep our luggage for miles – but the driver checked with a guard who pointed out the ship, and all was well.

We arrived a few minutes before they were ready to start the mandatory Covid tests – we passed and could officially check in, unpack, and greet our friends.

After dinner this evening, the ship took us on a short cruise on the Douro to see the city greet the night.

We’re docked again and will sail at breakfast time tomorrow.

Porto on our own

We had no firm plans for today other than to walk around Porto and see what we could see. We had a leisurely breakfast at the hotel and set out just before 10am.

Our first stop was the Igreja dos Carmelitas Descalços, one of two adjacent churches owned by the Carmelites – although a “Secret House” was discovered between them a few decades ago. The church is lavishly gilded.

Our next planned stop was the Palacio da Bolsa (the former Stock Exchange); Google Maps offered us several walking routes with similar ETAs; we decided to take the one that led us through a row of sanctioned street vendors and a park. We escaped with wallets intact, and soon we were across from Porto’s very modern Justice Building.

We then found ourselves passing the Igreja de São José das Taipas. We were going to keep walking but the sign outside said that there was a painting inside of the disaster of the Bridge of Boats, so we went in. I wasn’t surprised to see that the altar was gilded!

Thousands of civilians died in the first Battle of Porto during Napoleon’s campaign in Spain and Portugal when the “Bridge of Boats” that crossed the Douro collapsed under the weight of the people trying to flee the city. The painting in the church shows the disaster.

We avoided stopping anywhere else until we got to the Bolsa. The only way to see the Bolsa is on a guided tour, and we arrived with barely enough time to get on the only English-language tour on the schedule.

We began in the Court of Nations; it had a magnificent skylight and the coat of arms of twenty nations that were friends of Portugal at the time the room was built.

The tour continued through the palace, ending at the Arab Hall which is still used for formal visits and official city events.

After the tour, there was yet another interesting-looking church on our route, but we avoided going in.

We wanted to have lunch on the Ribeira, but didn’t like the restaurants we saw at river level; instead, we went to A Grade in an alley away from the river itself. We had the house codfish and liked it a lot.

We wandered around the Ribeira and discovered a branch of the City Museum of Porto that was devoted to the Douro; it had some interesting exhibits (including a 1960s documentary about the last “rabelos” on the Douro, bringing port to Porto by rowing it there). An artist had decanted soil from various places along the Douro into wine bottles and mounted them on racks.

It also had a wine bar with Port tastings and comparisons; we indulged.

We paid our respects to Prince Henry the Navigator before going back to our hotel to regroup.

We headed out again for a chocolate and Port wine tasting at Chocolataria Equador; we decided against buying either, at least for the time being.

Our hotel offered a free “welcome drink” to its guests; the only catch was the timing – it was only available from 11am to 6pm, and we didn’t expect to be at the hotel then. But we were there this afternoon and tried the Madeira – not bad!

We walked to the Santa Caterina shopping district and had a simple dinner at Mengos. On the way back to the hotel, we enjoyed a nice view of Clergiós Tower passed by the Igreja Paroquial de Santo Ildefonso (we didn’t even check to see if the church was open!).

Shabbat Shalom!

A Private Tour of Porto

We’ve had good luck with Tours by Locals and today was no exception. We took the Discover Porto Highlights Private Tour with our guide, Ricardo M., and we got a wonderful introduction to the city and might have even walked enough to make up for the Pastéis de Nata that Ricardo treated us to at our coffee stop!

Ricardo met us at 9:30 in our hotel lobby and we took off for our first stop a few hundred meters away, the [Sāo Bento Train Station(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/São_Bento_railway_station). We’d walked by there yesterday evening but hadn’t gone in, so we were surprised by the beautiful tile murals on the interior walls showing significant events in Portuguese history.

Our next stop was the grounds of the Sé do Porto (the Porto Cathedral); we saw this interesting not-road sign as walked there.

The Cathedral is old – it can be dated back to the 12th Century, though parts are much newer. There are other museums nearby, like the Museum of Painted Glass (we didn’t have time to visit it), and there are lots of houses and apartments in the area. The owners are required to keep the exteriors mostly unchanged, but Ricardo told us that the interiors were quite modern.

The Cathedral, like much of Porto, is decorated in porcelain tile.

We walked across the Douro River on the Dom Luis I Bridge – it’s for pedestrians and the Metro, no cars. The view was wonderful.

The other side of the river is a different city, Vila Nova de Gaia. It’s the home of many Port houses and is more populous than Porto. We stopped at the grounds of the Monastery of Serra do Pilar to enjoy the view of Porto proper.

We walked back across the bridge and visited the temporary Bolhāo Market, where we bought what I suspect will only be the first chocolate of the trip. The market itself is being rebuilt a few blocks away and will be enormous; even the temporary market had an overwhelming number of food stalls, mostly fresh fish and produce. No photos, sorry!

I’ve only gotten through the first hour-and-a-half of our day, it’s after 11pm and I’m exhausted, so I’m going to stop for the night. Boa noite!

We reach Porto

British Airways has weird seat arrangements in business class on their transatlantic flights. I’d made the best guess I could from the seat map, but Diane and I were separated by a divider – however, there was an unrelated person who would have been right next to me all night. He was happy to swap seats with Diane so we could be together instead.

The food was good (we both had the cod) and I liked the Italian white wine; the Pinot was ok, too. The before-dinner drinks were forgettable; the Graham’s Six Grapes Reserve Ruby Port was very nice.

When we landed, we had to wait a couple of minutes for a gate – and about 20 minutes for the jet bridge to connect to the airplane. People with short connections were not very happy. We came into Terminal 5 and had to take the bus to Terminal 3 for our flight to Porto; getting through security in T3 was not too bad (and would have been easier if I’d listened more carefully and taken off my Apple Watch before going through the metal detector!).

The BA lounge in T3 is not as nice as the one at SFO; we were hungry and ordered the Moroccan Meat Balls. They took about 30 minutes to arrive and weren’t worth the wait; at least they didn’t cost extra. I was really surprised that they didn’t have any desserts available, unlike the situation in SFO. Or even candy – SFO had Matlow’s hard candy (transparent fruity), which I really liked. They also had Sperlari Italian hard candy, also good.

The flight to Porto was delayed because someone who’d checked luggage decided not to travel and they had to pull their bags. Once we got into the air, the flight was smooth. Clearing health screening in Porto took about 15 seconds – Diane didn’t even have to give the guard her vaccination card and he barely looked at either of our test results before slapping a blue wristband on us, giving us the freedom of the city (after we cleared immigration, of course).

The PortoBay Flores hotel is on a pedestrianized street, which gave our taxi driver some challenges – he had to wait for tourists to finish taking pictures more than once! Our room is in the new part of the hotel and has a great view over Porto.

We unpacked a little and set out for a light walk and dinner. This part of Porto is filled with little restaurants – we couldn’t get into the first one we tried and almost went back to the hotel bistro, but we stumbled across La Salumeria Porto and went there instead; I enjoyed it. Fortunately, they had a few vegetarian options on their menu.

After dinner, we walked the length of our street (about 200 meters) and found a wonderful gelato shop, Glanni. The servers were helpful and friendly – one even took a photo of Diane and me outside with their giant cone!

We’d had enough for the first night after a long day of travel and went back to our room; the view at night isn’t bad, either!